Monday, November 7, 2016

Race recap: The Lake Washington Half Marathon

It's been a whirlwind of a visit to my hometown of Seattle. I've done a ton of museum hopping, met up with family and friends, and sampled all my favorite Pacific Northwest dishes.

But one thing I've never done in Seattle is run a half-marathon. Other than a few high-school cross-country meets, the only race I've ever done here was a 10k road race back in the 1980s. So I signed up for the inaugural Lake Washington Half-Marathon, which promised a flat and fast course along the beautiful lakefront in Kirkland, just outside of Seattle.

When I arrived in Kirkland at 6:30 on Saturday for the race, it was pitch-dark and rainy. I was an hour early for the start, so I strolled to the registration booth and got my bib and t-shirt. Since the rain didn't show any signs of letting up, I walked back to the car and sat inside as I waited for the start time to approach. Here's my one-and only pre-race photo, taken inside the car:

At least it's dry and relatively warm in here!
At 7:15, it was still dark but the rain had eased off, so I made my way back to the starting area. The lines at the porta-potties were too long, so I skipped that and hoped my slight urge to pee would go away as I started to run. My long-term goal in the half-marathon is to run a 1:32, a 7:00 pace, which would earn me a guaranteed entry to the New York Marathon. But I didn't feel like I was quite ready for that yet, so I decided to start off at around a 7:20 pace and then adjust based on how the run was going at the halfway point. I noticed a long line of runners heading for the starting mats, so I followed them, standing between the 1:30 pace group and the 1:40 pace group. If I ran a 7:20 pace for the entire race, I should finish in about 1:36. In any case, I wanted to stay ahead of the 1:40 pace group.

At 7:30 a.m. an official grabbed a megaphone and announced that it was too dark to start the race, so they were delaying the start until it was safe. I figured this would be at least long enough to use the porta-potty, so I dashed off and did my business before another 100 or so runners followed suit. I was back at the start by 7:40, but there was no indication the race would start any time soon. The chatter among the runners centered on why the race directors hadn't taken the expected sunrise time into account when planning on when to schedule the race. But of course, this is the sort of thing you expect to happen at a first year event, so we patiently waited and tried to keep warm, thankful that the rain had halted for now.

Finally at 8:05 the race started. Seemingly on cue, it started raining again, and it didn't stop until long after I had crossed the finish line. I tried to settle in to a comfortable, fast pace, and found myself running at about 7:05 per mile. That seemed a little fast, but I wasn't able to settle in to a slower pace. The lake was visible to the right, but it was still a little dark and hazy, so you couldn't see much of it. After the first mile, we turned left and headed up a long hill. Suddenly it wasn't hard to slow down. After a 140-foot climb, we headed downhill again, and I salvaged a 7:24 for Mile 2. Mile 3 was downhill, 7:03. Mile 4 was flat, and I settled into a 7:16 pace.

This pace was okay, but I wondered if I would really be able to sustain it for another 9 miles. I could already feel my legs beginning to tire. I hadn't run anything close to this pace for anywhere near 13 miles in a long time. I started to think a 7:30 pace was a bit more realistic. Mile 5 had some rolling hills, and I finished it in a hard-fought 7:22. Then we took a sharp left turn and I saw a long, steep hill, with no end in sight.

The hill continued for a grueling 130 vertical feet. Finally we turned off the road and onto a level greenway. Unfortunately, the greenway was unpaved, packed gravel. The rain had softened it to a degree that perceptibly mitigated each step. I much prefer racing on paved roads, and although there was nothing technical about this greenway, I just felt like it took more effort to maintain my pace than on the flats. I had been running next to two women, and here one of them just took off; clearly this was the kind of surface she liked! The other woman, in a pink t-shirt, handled the gravel better than I did and also moved ahead of me, but she only gained ground on me slowly. I finished Mile 6, with its climb and soft surface, in 7:50. I was able to pick things up again in Mile 7, to a 7:26. But the gravel just went on and on, and I slowed in Mile 8 (7:43) and Mile 9 (7:43).

I could still see Pink-Shirted Woman, perhaps 200 yards ahead. If we ever got off this greenway, maybe I'd be able to summon the strength to pass her. Mile 10, 7:37, came to an end, and we FINALLY turned off the greenway. What a relief! Unfortunately, the course turned uphill again, and my pace slowed. After a quarter-mile or so, the course finally headed downhill, and I just tried to relax and let the slope carry me along at a quicker pace. The next thing I knew, I was being passed by a gray-haired man. I looked at my watch and saw that my pace had slowed to over 8:00 per mile. What?!? I summoned whatever strength I could muster to pick up the pace. Mile 11, mostly downhill and on pavement, was finished in a pathetic 7:47. Pink-Shirted Woman had moved comfortably out of view, and Grey-Haired Man continued to gain ground on me.

But now there was only 2.1 miles to go. Surely I could pick up the pace for these two miles, which would surely be flat ones, right? Wrong. We turned a corner and ahead was another long climb. I gritted my teeth and pushed my way up. Finally, after another 80 feet of climbing, the course turned downhill. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the bright-yellow shirts of the 1:40 pace team. I couldn't let them pass me! I picked up the pace again as I ran down the hill, but the hill was steep enough and my legs sore enough that I couldn't take full advantage of the grade. Finally it flattened out again. Mile 12 was over in 7:46. Now the pace team was right behind me. I heard someone ask if they were on pace to finish in 1:40 and they said they were actually a bit ahead, probably due for about a 1:39:30. I did my best to stay ahead of them, but as we turned the final corner into the finish area, they pulled ahead of me. Mile 13, 7:35.

Just a little more to go. I gave it everything I had for that final tenth of a mile, and crossed the line as the clock read 1:39:20, just behind the pace team. My official chip time was 1:39:15.

It was still raining. I shook hands with the pacers and thanked them for keeping me honest at the finish. My average pace for the race officially was 7:35 per mile. Not bad for a course that was hillier than I thought it would be, much of it on a slow surface. I think my goal of a 7:00 pace and a 1:32 finish is attainable on a truly flat, fast course if I just do a few longer tempo runs and track workouts, to get myself used to running a faster pace over a longer distance. And I've signed up for a very flat, very fast half-marathon in Houston on January 15 where I should be able to get very close to that time.

Meanwhile, I grabbed a donut and some coffee in the finish area. It was much too cold and wet for a beer. After a couple of minutes, I headed back to the car, where I was once again too cold to step outside for a post-race selfie.

Me in the car after the race. This is all you get, folks!
For now, all I can do is get back to training. I've got a few long tempos and big track workouts in my future. Oh, and a "fun" marathon in Nashville in two weeks. Wish me luck! Details of Saturday's race are below.

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